by Matt Powell, editor for the broadband comparison site Broadband Genie.
Finding a new broadband package should be straightforward, but with such a huge choice of providers and deals it can be overwhelming and put many off switching ISP.
Yet switching can save money or get you a faster connection (sometimes both!) so it’s always worth spending a little time comparing offers to see what else is out there.
Here are our top tips to help you find the best broadband deal.
Broadband availability is different in every location so before you do anything else investigate what's available to your home. This will make it much easier to narrow down the choices later on.
Any broadband ISP can check this but they will obviously only tell you about the services they offer. Instead pay a visit to www.samknows.com and use the broadband availability tools to get an unbiased picture.
For the most accurate results you need to search using a phone number and postcode. A postcode check alone can only show what’s available at the nearest exchange but does not guarantee coverage to a specific address.
There's a constant parade of special offers for broadband, ranging from months of discounted pricing to free gifts to Netflix subscriptions. These can be a nice bonus but don’t let a freebie alone sway your decision.
In the case of deals with discounted monthly costs make sure that the post-discount price remains affordable for you, and consider the full cost over the life of the contract compared to deals with lower regular prices.
All broadband packages share some key features. Here are a few things to look out for when comparing deals.
The speed (measured in Mbps - Megabits per second) will determine how quickly you can transfer data and how many things you can do at once without everything slowing to a crawl. The big numbers advertised by fibre broadband ISPs are impressive but activities such as web browsing, email and social networking do not require a superfast link so an ADSL "up to" 17Mb service may be sufficient. However fibre optic broadband is better for big file downloads or HD video streaming, particularly if the connection is shared with several people in your home.
An important point to remember about the speed is that it is unlikely to be as fast as the advertisements say. Ask your provider for a speed estimate before signing up to ensure it’s going to be suitable.
Many broadband packages will require you to sign on for 12, 18 or 24 months. That's okay as long as you've got no plans to cancel it within the contract term, otherwise you’ll have to pay a cancellation fee.
Shorter term contracts are available, some with rolling monthly agreements. However these are poorer value compared to the longer deals so best avoided unless you only need the broadband for a short period.
Deals with data usage limits are often some of the cheapest around, but unlimited broadband is now widely available and can also be very inexpensive. An unlimited deal is usually best even if you don’t think you'll need it as it removes all worry about extra charges from overuse.
If you do opt for a package with a limit you may want to keep a close eye on your usage. Web browsing is very low impact but a limit can be quickly exceeded when downloading files or streaming from Netflix.
Broadband, TV, phones and even mobile SIMs can be picked up as a bundle from the same company. This can save money over using separate providers and simplify billing, but make sure each individual component is suitable for you.
Using separate providers can offer more flexibility, allowing you to switch individual services as your tastes and requirements change. Compare the cost of bundles versus individual packages, and think about whether you're really going to make full use of all the components.